In mass murder, does fault lie with parent?
By Kimberly Groll DearCounselorKim@aol.com January 21, 2013 11:22AM
Kimberly Groll, columnist for the Naperville Sun, writes a monthly column called “Dear Counselor,” that will ask people in the community to voice their concerns and get answers to questions.
Updated: February 24, 2013 6:06AM
After hearing about the shooting in Connecticut at the Sandy Hook Elementary school, we are left with many disturbing feelings. We may be asking ourselves is it the parents’ fault, or the child’s fault?
Jon Swaine of Newtown, Conn. wrote, “Adam Lanza, who was 20, stood out as different from an early age. He is believed by investigators to have attended Sandy Hook Elementary, the site of his massacre, before being removed and partially home-schooled by his mother. The decision to take him out of class was one of many taken by his affluent parents as they struggled to find ways to support their troubled son.”
“I understand that it wasn’t that Nancy (Adam’s mother) was overwrought about the trivialities of everyday life, but that she was handling a very difficult situation with uncommon grace.”
Lanza was described as having learning disabilities by his brother, and was labeled as being socially awkward. It is apparent that this 20-year-old individual displayed signs of troubled behavior early on. It was also known that the family did not lack finances, and medical help could have been an option.
So, do we blame the parents for not tending to their son’s issues early on, or do we blame the child who took guns from the parent who taught him to shoot, knows about his socially awkward behavior, and he then goes on a killing spree? Do we blame the guns, or do we blame the individual behind the gun?
“I think the most important thing to point out with this kind of individual is that he did not snap this morning and decide to act out violently,” said former FBI profiler Mary Ellen O’Toole. “These acts involve planning and thoughtfulness and strategizing in order to put the plan together so what may appear to be snap behavior is not that at all.”
The most important question I have is, could this horrific massacre been prevented if this individual received the proper treatment early on? Unfortunately we will never know. However, we can prevent future behaviors from getting out of control if we are willing to pay attention to the signs and symptoms and take action.
My son is age 15. He is aggressive and angry, swears a lot and shows no respect for anyone, including himself. He is making bad choices and hanging around with kids I do not prefer him to be hanging around with. He is doing poorly in school and comes and goes as he pleases even though we have a set curfew.
This behavior has been going on for quite some time, and we don’t know what to do about it. My husband and I along with his younger sister are starting to fear being around him. We are afraid to say anything that will upset him because, if he gets angry, we don’t know what he might do. I heard you deal with anger management and wondering if you could help us with this situation.
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It is important to address these issues before something happens beyond your control. Mental disorders appear to be “the chronic diseases of the young” (NIMH, 2005), beginning in childhood and adolescence and affecting the core areas of life, including educational achievement, relationships and occupational success. Failure to recognize and diagnose these disorders, as well as delays in treatment, can exacerbate the situation, leading to mental illness that is more severe and more resistant to treatment, as well as to the development of co-occurring (or comorbid) disorders as the adolescent moves into young adulthood. Left untreated, early onset mental disorders can lead to school failure, long-standing mood disorders, substance misuse, instability and violence (Kessler, Berglund, et al.,2005).
It will be important to distinguish between age-appropriate and atypical behaviors. Treatment planning for children is a very complex task. Children experience at least two systems, the family and the school that affect their behaviors and emotional well-being. Therapy with children almost always involves contact with their families because a disorder and its concomitant behaviors will both affect and be affected by family life. The impact of financial and emotional stressors, transitions and family relationships on a child’s emotional health should all be assessed. Additional services may be required to provide treatment, support, and resources to siblings and parents, who may have their own emotional difficulties (Seligman, Reichenberg, 2007).
A variety of checklists are available to assess behaviors. These inventories, including the Conners’ Teacher and Parent Rating Scales (Conners, 1997), the Achenbach Child Behavior Checklist (Achenbach, 1991), and the Behavior Assessment System for Children, second edition (BASC) (Reynolds & Kamphaus, 2002) are usually used to facilitate the collection and organization of information. Each assesses such characteristics as anxiety, depressive symptoms, hyperactivity, inattention, impulsivity, atypical thoughts, aggressive or delinquent behaviors, and somatic complaints (Seligman, Reichenberg, 2007).
Parents need to remember that just because their child is getting older doesn’t mean they don’t need to be attended to and looked after. If you notice unusual behavior within your child, it should be addressed. Waiting for a child to outgrow an unusual behavior, or overlooking the undesired behavior, is just ignoring the situation. Failure to address negative behavior in the early years of growth can lead to dysfunction in later years.
Kimberly Groll is a licensed
professional counselor, certified as a drug and alcohol/addictions counselor and anger management trainer at Care Clinics, 630-632-4060. Email questions to her at DearCounselorKim@aol.com. The information in this column is strictly generic in nature and is intended to be informational only and should not be relied on as a substitute for professional intervention.